Taking the #DinnerTimeChallenge with HelloFresh

Since becoming a stay-at-home dad 5 years ago, I have been cooking the majority of our dinners. Generally, I’ll feed out daughter first, and after my wife comes home from work I’ll get on with our dinner, while she does bath & bedtime. We will then have our dinner (and wine) while watching TV.

This also happens in a similar fashion on weekends. So we very rarely eat together as a family.

Frankly, now our daughter is 5-years-old, there is no excuse for us not eating together as a family more often.  We can’t even blame having a fussy eater child, who we need to make another meal for, as she likes most things we do – probably even more. We’ve just gotten into this habit. One could even call it a rut.

HelloFresh asked us to undertake the #DinnerTimeChallenge – to eat as many meals together as possible. They made this a lot easier by giving us 4 family meals a week, as part of their weekly recipe box delivery service.

They also provided us with some interesting stats – some of which applied to us. We are one of those 73% of UK families who don’t get together round the table to eat meals together, and 69% of adults who eat dinner watching TV (or similar). We also feed our child first, like half the population.

This is all a great shame, as we love food in our house, and our daughter sees it as a real treat for us to eat together as a family. Having a family dinner is guaranteed to put a smile on her face.

So we undertook the challenge, with HelloFresh’s family meals for us to cook. Frankly, it is a brilliant service. You get the ingredients to create each meal, including individual portions of herbs & spices – as well as the recipes created by their team of chefs.

HelloFresh recipe cards

The meals are imaginative, healthy, straightforward to make, and most importantly (to me) delicious. It’s really reignited our own interest in trying out new dishes, and given us great kick up the behind to have more family meals.

One of our family meals was this Butternut Squash & Pancetta pie.

And it’s not just me doing the cooking. My wife has made as many as me, and our daughter is keen to help us in the kitchen – and she’s at the age when she is actually helpful (especially in washing up!)

The 5-year-old helping out in the kitchen (she really was a help!)

I’m really glad we undertook this challenge, as it’s inspired me to help us act more like the family we want to be – in this case, one that shares their love of food together.

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We have been provided with a 3 month Hello Fresh subscription for the purposes of this review. To get a £25 discount from your first Hello Fresh delivery, click here.

Dad’s Night In: Iceland’s Chicken Nuggets with Homemade BBQ Sauce #PowerOfFrozen (ad)

Like other families, we have a routine to most nights. I make our daughter dinner before my wife gets home from work. She then does our daughter’s bath & bedtime while I get our own dinner ready. On those evenings when my wife is working late or is away, I tend to make a joint dinner for myself and our daughter.

But sometimes on these occasions, I prefer to give the kid her dinner as normal, and after packing her off to bed I indulge in a treat dinner for myself. A day of parenting can be tough, so unwinding with a dinner completely of my choice – that I don’t need to select with either my wife or daughter in mind – is all I want for an evening. Ok, that and wine. And a movie.

Iceland’s chicken nuggets served with homemade BBQ sauce would be a typical dad’s night in dinner for me. It’s a slightly grown up version of a childhood comfort food favourite – only this time consisting of Iceland’s chicken nuggets and my zingy BBQ dipping sauce.

Iceland’s frozen chicken nuggets are pretty tasty, which isn’t surprising as they’re made from 100% chicken breast. Having them in the freezer is not only really convenient, it also means I can cook only as many as I need (well, ok – want) while the rest can be stored for longer. That’s all part of the #PowerOfFrozen.

While the nuggets only took 15 minutes from freezer to plate via the oven, prepared earlier was my BBQ dipping sauce. It has real oomph, but if you’re less of a garlic & chilli fan than me, you can dial those back – especially if serving to kids (this would even be too much for my chilli eating daughter).

Homemade BBQ Sauce

Most of the ingredients are available from Iceland, and are easy to find & purchase either in store or online. This makes a big batch, but it can be frozen to use at a later date – perhaps with some frozen chicken nuggets for a last minute dad’s night in dinner?

Homemade BBQ Sauce

  • 1 small onion
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 2 red chillies (or equivalent of chilli flakes)
  • olive oil
  • 1tsp fennel seeds (crushed)
  • 1tsp english mustard
  • 1tsp ground ginger
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 50ml dark soy sauce
  • 300ml tomato ketchup
  • 250ml apple cider
  • 1tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 55g brown sugar (can be light, dark, or a mix)
  1. Finely chop or blitz onion, garlic, chillies
  2. In a medium pan, fry on a medium heat for five minutes
  3. Add fennel seeds and ginger – stir in
  4. Add ketchup, soy, Worcestershire sauce, and cider – stir in
  5. Add sugar, stir in
  6. Bring to the boil, and simmer for 10-15 mins
  7. When thickened, remove from heat
  8. Stir in mustard, and allow to cool before serving
nuggets-sq
Iceland’s Chicken Nuggets with Homemade BBQ Sauce

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This is a sponsored post in collaboration with Iceland Foods. Their 100% Chicken Breast Nuggets are available to purchase either online or in store. 

While Mum’s at Work, Dad’s Gone to Iceland to Get Dinner

There were two things I knew about UK supermarket Iceland:

  1. Much of its produce is frozen (‘Iceland’, geddit?)
  2. Only mums can shop there

Ok, no. 2 isn’t strictly true, but linking the brand with motherhood has historically been a strong theme of their advertising. The tagline ‘That’s why mums go to Iceland’ will be familiar to UK shoppers.

It’s an association that relies on traditional gender stereotypes, and can wind up mums and dads alike with the assumption that only mothers take care of the shopping – and by extension the household.

Is this brand focus shifting? Perhaps. I noticed that Iceland had been working with a lot of mum bloggers on their #PowerOfFrozen campaign, so I figured it was business as usual. However, Iceland recently got in touch and wanted me to give them a try too.

However, the hook for this was football, more specifically the Euro 2016 contest. Is it another gender stereotype that dads love football? Of course it is. But the fact is that I do like football, especially international tournaments.

While I’ll be cheering on England, it’s also very English to have a plucky underdog – sorry, another plucky underdog – to support as well. What does this have to do with anything? Well (as I’m sure you know) Iceland is also a country, and for the very first time they have qualified for the European Championship. With a population of just 300,000 they are the smallest nation ever to do so.

So in a nice bit of brand synergy, Iceland (the supermarket) is sponsoring Iceland (the national football team) in the tournament – and they are making the case for them to be your second team.

Iceland (the supermarket) challenged me to prepare a football feast that you might eat while watching a game – using only ingredients from their supermarket.

Challenge accepted. The also sent me through a few Iceland (the supermarket) and Iceland (the national football team) themed goodies, the most useful of which was the shopping bag (pictured).

So that’s why this dad’s gone to Iceland.

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My challenge had a few conditions, which included a couple of specific products, keeping it within a £30 budget, and making something that’s convenient to feed the masses while watching the footy.

While it would have been easy to create a ‘fake-away’ of Iceland ready meals, I thought I’d attempt to cook something. I only used one frozen ingredient and included a number of fresh ingredients available in the supermarket, including lettuce, tomatoes, onions, and peppers. Anyway, this is what I came up with:

Chicken Fajitas Football Feast

While Mum's at Work, Dad's Gone to Iceland Chicken Fajita Football Feast #PowerofFrozen finished dish

Makes 12 wraps (we would serve 2-3 per person, or 1-2 per child).

Total prep and cooking time was about 30 mins.

Ingredients (from Iceland)

  • Iceland Breaded Chicken Breast Fillet Strips (650g)
  • Old El Paso Fajita kit (12 wraps, seasoning, salsa)
  • Red onion x 2, diced
  • Peppers x 3, sliced
  • Lettuce (small head x 2), shredded
  • Tomatoes x 3
  • Cheese (mild cheddar), grated
  • Red wine (Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon), large glass
  • Olive oil (1 tbsp)
  • Chillies (to taste), chopped

Method

  1. Cook chicken in oven as per packet instructions (typically 180c for 20-25 mins)
  2. In the meantime, in a large pan heat oil on a medium flame. Fry onion for a few minutes, then add chillies.
  3. After 5 mins add the peppers and cook for a few more minutes, then the fajita seasoning. As the peppers cook, they will release water into the pan.
  4. Crank up the heat then add the wine, loosening any bits stuck the the pan
  5. While the pan is sizzling, shred the lettuce, slice the tomatoes, and grate the cheese, ready for fajita construction.
  6. Enough time should have elapsed to remove chicken from oven (but check properly cooked).
  7. Heat up wraps according to packet instructions.
  8. Construct your fajitas, combining all the elements as desired – for each one I started with pepper/onion mix, 1-2 pieces of chicken, lettuce, salsa, cheese, and topped with more lettuce.
  9. Roll up each one up, slice in the middle, and they’re ready to eat.

So there you have it – a tasty football feast using a mix of fresh and frozen ingredients from Iceland (the supermarket).

Now, this feast cost about £15 (with 2/3 bottle wine left over). I blew the remaining half of my budget on a mini beer keg (5l) of Budweiser (no, not the rancid US one but the original and far tastier Czech beer, aka Budvar).

While Mum's at Work, Dad's Gone to Iceland Chicken Fajita Football Feast #PowerofFrozen packshot

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I was happily surprised that I could make this dish using only ingredients from Iceland (the supermarket). I was also happily surprised that I – a dad – was welcome to shop in Iceland too 😉

They have also swayed me towards supporting Iceland (the national football team), who are 150-1 outsiders to win the tournament.

It reminded me of Euro ’92, when the similarly small Nordic country Denmark won – they were such outsiders that they hadn’t even qualified, and only got in when Yugoslavia was disqualified (for not existing as a country anymore). Denmark beat the mighty Germany 2-0 in (what I remember as) a thrilling final.

As the triumph of Leicester in the Premiership this year has shown, football remains a funny old game.

So c’mon England – and failing that, c’mon Iceland. Their first game is against Portugal on June 14th, a mismatch made in football tournament heaven.

Remember the Danes Iceland…

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This is a sponsored post.

 

 

 

Japanese Udon Noodles with Miso Carbonara recipe

This Japanese Udon Noodles with Miso Carbonara recipe has become the breakfast of choice for my daughter and I, and we’ll have it 2-3 times a week.

Before you go “ugh”, this is not a cheesy dish.

We kind of made it up ourselves, and it was born from solving a problem: Despite our daughter generally being a very unfussy eater, eggs were something she didn’t like – whether fried, scrambled, boiled or as an omelette.

This was annoying because I really liked eggs for breakfast, and is was also a really convenient joint breakfast. While I could still make them for myself, making separate breakfasts for you & your toddler is a real pain. So how to get her to eat eggs again?

I was probably inspired by this recipe for Miso Scrambled Eggs, but the eggs in this dish are not scrambled – like a traditional Italian Carbonara, they are a thickening agent for the sauce to bind it all together. Y’know, like the force.

This dish has been great for a) Enabling us to have a convenient and tasty joint breakfast of eggs, b) Getting her to eat chilli*, c) Getting her to eat with chopsticks**.

Japanese Udon Noodles with Miso Carbonara recipe

Serves: 1 adult and 1 toddler/preschooler 

Ingredients

  • Vegetable oil
  • 1 small red chilli/tsp chilli flakes
  • portion Udon noodles
  • sachet/portion of miso (approx 25g)
  • 3 eggs

Method

  1. Cook noodles as per packet instructions.
  2. In a large frying pan, fry the chilli on a low heat.
  3. In a bowl, mix miso with a little water. Add eggs, and lightly whisk.
  4. Pour egg & miso mixture into the pan, then add drained noodles.
  5. This is the crucial part. This needs to gradually thicken into a sauce, not cook into scrambled eggs. Start on a low heat, then whack it up for short blasts of high to get it going. Keep stirring all the time, to make sure the eggs cook evenly.
  6. Divide into bowls (we go 2/3 adult, 1/3 child) and serve immediately.
  7. Eat with lightsaber chopsticks (Pictured. Optional, but cool).

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*How to get your kid to eat chilli

As a kid – and even a young adult – I never ate chilli. I hated it. Didn’t see the point of it. But once I finally embraced it, I loved it and realised what I’d been missing. So when I had a kid, I knew I wanted to get this chilli indoctrination out of the way early.

So I started gradually at about 2. It clearly wasn’t pleasant for her, but I offered an incentive – a piece of chocolate afterwards. And eventually, she stopped asking for the chocolate and started to enjoy it. One time, I forget to put chilli in this, and she got very upset, crying “ButI want the tingle!”

I also championed the soothing power of eating chilli when you have a cold, and she agreed. Now she requests chilli in her food whenever she has a cold.

**How to get you kid to eat with chopsticks

This was also something I learned late in life, so I wanted to try and get my kid in the habit early. Easier said than done I though, but I had a great ally in the films of Studio Ghibli.

These Japanese animated movies have frequent scenes of people eating with chopsticks, so I merely encouraged her to eat with chopsticks like her favourite characters in My Neighbour Totoro, Whisper of the Heart, etc. and this was motivation enough. She is now completely at ease using them.

It also helps to have an awesome pair of Lightsaber chopsticks, that we picked up in Japan. My daughter and I take turns in who gets to use them. 🙂

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So that’s our Japanese Udon Noodles with Miso Carbonara recipe. For another child friendly noodle dish, also see my Teriyaki Udon Noodles with Chilli and Egg Recipe.

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Spinach and Ricotta Pasta Bake Recipe (with Cherry Tomatoes and Chilli)

This Spinach and Ricotta Pasta Bake (with Cherry Tomatoes and Chilli) is a ridiculously easy family meal, that can be put together with store cupboard ingredients if needs be.

This is a vegetarian dish that should satisfy most meat eaters. I tend to have meat or seafood with every dinner, but find that iron rich spinach is one ingredient I prefer in vegetarian dishes only (such as Spinach & Feta pie and Fiorintina Pizza).

The key to a good pasta bake is to undercook the pasta prior to baking in the oven, where it will finish cooking.

Serves 4-6

Spinach and Ricotta Pasta Bake Recipe

Ingredients

  • 400g  pasta (large tubes such as Rigatoni work best)
  • 250ml tub of ricotta cheese
  • 500g  frozen spinach (thawed and drained)
  • Grating of  nutmeg
  • 1 tbsp Olive oil
  • 3 cloves of garlic (finely chopped)
  • 500-700ml sieved tomatoes (Passata)
  • 1 tsp chili flakes, or finely chopped red chilli
  • 1 tsp  dried basil
  • 1 tsp  dried oregano
  • 1 tsp rosemary (finely chopped)
  • 250g Cherry Tomatoes
  • Parmesan (to taste)
  • Breadcrumbs (from a slice or two)
  • Salt & pepper

Method

  1. In a large saucepan, cook the pasta to 2 mins less than al dente – usually about 4 mins under packet instructions.
  2. Mix in Riccotta, spinach, and nutmeg, then add the cherry tomatoes.
  3. At the same time, in a medium pan on a medium heat, fry the garlic and chilli in a little olive oil for a couple of minutes.
  4. Add the Passata and herbs, stir in, and keep on the lowest heat.
  5. Place the pasta mixture in a baking dish, and then spoon over the tomato sauce to completely cover.
  6. Top with breadcrumbs and grated parmesan.
  7. Bake at 180c/350F for 25-35 mins.
  8. Remove from oven, and leave to settle for a few minutes. The pasta will absorb more flavour and liquid, and will lead to a firmer texture of pasta bake.

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